Royal Society of Victoria honours breast cancer scientist

11 December 2014
Key Researchers
Professor Jane Visvader in her office
Professor Jane Visvader has been awarded the 2014
Royal Society of Victoria Research Medal for
Excellence in Scientific Research.
Breast cancer researcher Professor Jane Visvader has been awarded the 2014 Royal Society of Victoria Medal for Excellence in Scientific Research for her work to define normal breast development and identify cells of origin for breast cancer.

The medal is awarded annually to a leading Victorian scientist. Professor Visvader received the medal last night from the society’s patron, His Excellency the Honourable Alex Chernov AC QC, Governor of Victoria.

In 2006, Professor Visvader together with Professor Geoff Lindeman and her team were the first to identify and isolate breast stem cells, and show they can give rise to every type of cell within the breast. Subsequent studies by the team have implicated breast stem cells, and their ‘daughter’ progenitor cells, as a potential cell of origin for breast cancer, and helped to explain the link between female hormones and breast cancer.  “Breast stem cells are key to discovering how cancers form,” Professor Visvader said. “Studying how normal breast tissue develops will help us to find how normal processes go awry during cancer growth, and help us create new diagnostic tools or identify potential targets for novel therapeutic treatments.”

Professor Visvader and her team have created a number of important preclinical models of human breast cancers. The models are created using donated tissue samples from patients and are vital research tools for testing potential new treatments, or drug combinations, on real human tumour cells to examine how they will respond.

More recently, Professor Visvader and colleagues found that breast stem cells and their ‘daughter’ progenitor cells are long-lived, suggesting that potentially harmful genetic changes acquired early in life could lead to the development of breast cancer decades later.

This work has allowed scientists at the institute and beyond to better understand how breast cancers develop and identify potential therapeutic targets.

Professor Visvader said she was honoured to receive the Royal Society of Victoria medal. “I am delighted that our research team has been recognised with this distinguished award,” she said. “Finding the cells of origin for breast cancer is key to improving outcomes for this disease.”

Institute director Professor Doug Hilton said the breast cancer team, led by joint division-heads Professor Visvader and Professor Geoff Lindeman, were making remarkable progress in understanding breast cancer. “Jane and Geoff were recruited to the institute in 1997 to set up a breast cancer laboratory and since then they have made some truly significant discoveries,” he said.

“Jane is highly respected around the world for her leadership and scientific achievements, making her a worthy recipient of this award.”

The Medal for Excellence in Scientific Research is the Royal Society of Victoria’s highest award and was introduced at the society’s centenary in 1959. Past winners of the medal from the institute include Professor Alan Cowman (2001), Professor Peter Colman (1985), Professor Don Metcalf (1973) and Sir Gustav Nossal (1964).

Further information:

Alan Gill
Science Communications Officer
P: +61 3 9345 2719
E: gill.a@wehi.edu.au

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